New Loews CEO Kirk Kinsell Runs with the Momentum

KinsellThe past three months have been hectic for Kirk Kinsell, the newly minted CEO of Loews Hotels & Resorts. On his first day, March 2, the company opened the 400-room Loews Chicago Hotel. From there, the former IHG exec went hotel hopping, visiting the 20-something properties to meet each individual team. Kinsell stopped by the company’s business service and reservation centers in Nashville, and also traveled to Universal Studios in Orlando, where Loews has an entire campus—Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Portofino Bay. He held a national meeting with all of Loews’ senior leaders, as well as meetings with all of its owners and most of its advisers. In April, the company completed its acquisition of the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco and converted it to a Loews Regency, creating a distinct luxury brand in the process. At the end of May, Kinsell hosted a two-day off-site meeting with his team to discuss Loews’ future. “I’d rather understand and listen to everybody else before being understood,” Kinsell explains. He also welcomed a grandchild to the family, started a weekly blog, and got a new apartment in New York City. Somehow, he had enough steam to sit down with Lodging earlier this month at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference to talk about his new gig and what’s on the horizon for Loews.

With everything going on at Loews right now, it seems like a good time to join the company. Having an ability to combine the reputation and the momentum of the business with my ambition and aspirations, in terms of being able to take from a ground level and shape an organization like Loews Hotels, is fantastic. You don’t get these opportunities in a lifetime very often—to transform a business, to work with a great team, to bring other people on to the organization, to move from one brand to three brands effectively, and to see how we continue to be innovative, not only with our offer at the hotel level but also how we present our company. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I will not measure myself by the size of the company or by the brands I create, but by the legacy of the people and the lives we touch. That’s where the satisfaction comes from. I’m fortunate we have a partner and a leader in the company, [chairman] Jon Tisch, who shares common values and a common vision that our reputation is the most important thing. I’ve also been blessed with [former CEO and current vice chairman] Paul Whetsell’s leadership and his hand over.

What’s it like going from a bigger company like IHG to a small one? It’s great. I miss the interchange I had with the owner base at a big company, because in a franchise model, you have that engagement with individual owners, but I’ve transformed that to individual engagement with our team members. In many ways, it’s more satisfactory, because I can get closer to the business and get closer to how we ultimately deliver to our guests. Also, in the process, being able to understand the component parts of how we’re delivering every day. The other day I was in Jon’s office, and I said, “I actually thought my life would be a little more subdued, that I wouldn’t be quite as busy or traveling quite as much,” and he looked at me and said, “Before you came here, we weren’t so busy, but since you’ve been here, we’ve been busier. So you may be part of that problem!”


Do you plan to make big changes at Loews? The major changes are to continue to lean into our momentum and look for continued opportunity for growth. I don’t see significant gaps in terms of our position in the market. I guess the biggest change you’ll see is a company that’s probably been thought of or approached the market more as a real estate and operator of hotels as opposed to thinking about it through the lens of a brand. While we’ve always delivered on guest experience and high-level customer experience, we need to take more of a brand perspective on everything we do. Even thinking about our parent company and the structure of Loews Hotels as an owner of three brands. Therefore, what our brand leadership and brand voice will be, what our communications will be supporting that, how we engage with not just our guests but also our customers and our partners, and more important, how we engage with our team members. That’s a more overt change.

What strengths do you bring to the CEO role? When you bring in a new leader, it’s also an opportunity to examine where we are in our business and what our focus is. Great credit has been given to Jon and Paul for taking an integrated hotels business with the Loews Corporation and separating that as a standalone business. So there were things to do that were urgent and important. Now, we can look more broadly and longer term and think about what we are going to be in 10 to 20 years, what’s our reputation and our legacy, and also what are some of the forces of change we can either harness or protect ourselves from. The business hasn’t had that much opportunity to sit back and have that kind of investigation. I’m not saying I’m more strategic, but I’m taking a wider lens, and through that lens being able to determine what the strategic pillars are and working a plan to chip away at that over time.

Another piece of it is people. The whole talent strategy is important—that’s how we deliver our guest experience. Having an engaged workforce is critical, so my purpose is the development of those people. Everybody is a human being, so how can I make everybody a better person, not just a better dishwasher, a better housekeeper, or a better general manager, how are they a better person as a result of that? It’s a broader and bigger agenda than we might have had before. All of that is natural to where we our in our own growth.

What is your growth plan for Loews Regency now that it’s a distinct brand? We see a unique opportunity across mostly U.S. markets, but it could be international; primarily in business centers, although could be resort; and primarily in higher RevPAR markets, because that’s where you’re going to find more customers who want to travel and stay in a higher end luxury experience. Therefore, it’s going to look more bi-coastal with a little bit in the middle. We’re going to use both acquisition and some development activity. Growth could also come through M&A.

How big are you looking to grow the company as a whole? It’s a lot of work. If there’s going to be a step change in size, it’s going to be through an M&A action, which today is just a pipe dream. It’s a plan, but there is nothing along the horizon yet. It will be individual assets or groups of assets in the near term. Over the next few years ahead, it’s going to be three to seven hotels. You don’t have to hit many markets to have a presence and a profile; we’ve proven that with Loews Hotels and Resorts. With Loews, if you back out the two Loews Regency hotels from the 23 in our portfolio, and you back out Hard Rock Hotel and Cabana Bay Beach Resort, we have 19 Loews Hotels and Resorts. At one point not long ago, that was 13. And yet it was still a household name. So you don’t have to have many to be powerful.

How is progress with the OE Collection soft brand? It’s more exciting than it is in numbers. People are very keenly interested, and we have a lot of very well developed conversations that are ongoing. The dam is going to break, and you’re going to hear of more than just one. But we had the one agreement signed—that makes all the difference in the world. We have a number of people that are very actively engaged, and we’re being picky about what we do first, second, and third. The answer is, we will call you.

Who is expressing an interest? You have people who don’t have a brand and need to compete with the ability for us to manage and connect them to a distribution and proven business model. There are also the development opportunities. And then there’s going to be somebody who doesn’t like what they’ve got today, which is probably going to be more the case. People can lose focus as they get too big or get combined with other companies. While OE is much more of a management platform for us, and has low capital intensity, for the right product we can co-invest, so that differentiates us from other management or soft brand options where it’s just a licensing. We’re happy to align our interests with other owners.

Any chance of Loews franchising in the future? No, not with our current product mix. When you say future, I can’t think ahead more than three to five years. If there was an acquisition opportunity, and with it came a franchising or licensing model, we wouldn’t say no to that. I’m very comfortable in that model, and I’m sure it will come with others who are pretty good at it, too.

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  1. Having worked with Kirk for many years at IHG (and I am just a lowly GM yet he always knew my name and asked relevant pertinent questions) I am so jealous of Loew’s getting him! They say there are 2 kinds of people in this world, those when you meet them you walk away very impressed with them and thinking very highly of them, and then there are those when you meet them you walk away feeling very impressed with yourself and highly of yourself. That’s Kirk. He buries the ego and just works hard and focuses on people and you are SOOOO lucky to have him!

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